How much is a living wage?

How much is a living wage?

A quick google search for the phrase “How much is a living wage?” produces over 150 million results. That is so encouraging for me. People are looking for guidance and help. We know the devastating realities of how minimum wages have enslaved millions of people into poverty. Perhaps you’ve landed here because your curiosity got the better of you and you just want to find out exactly how much a living wage is. If that is the case, can I point you to this website. It will give you the answer you’re looking for. On the other hand, if you’re interested in taking a journey with me as I share how I figured this out, in light of my faith, I’m glad you’re here. If you have landed here and you are not yet convinced that this is an issue of faith, please go back and watch the video at the beginning of this resource page and read the devotional we wrote.

Whilst I am going to present a proposed budget and final figure of what could be considered a living wage, I do want to add a disclaimer right upfront. The point of this exercise is to encourage you to consider realities and ideas beyond what you already know. It is not my intention to judge you, make you feel guilty, hopeless or despondent. My proposal is also not a ‘one-living-wage-fits-all’ model. My prayer as you read on is that you will feel challenged, convicted and equipped to have a conversation, make the necessary changes and become an advocate for how we pay the people we employ in our homes. Are you ready? 

A good friend of mine, Linda Martindale, describes a living wage as “the amount of money a family needs to live comfortably without having to struggle to have their basic needs met.” What do we mean when we talk about basic needs? A person’s basic needs include food, shelter and water as well as healthcare, education, transport, clothing and personal hygiene. I did wonder if the bible had anything to say about this. I was pleasantly surprised. In doing some research on this I came across a blog piece that an acquaintance in JHB  had posted in 2014. After feeling deeply convicted that they were not paying a living wage to their employee, they set out to research exactly what that was. He partnered with his domestic employee and offered to pay for her living expenses for 3 months. He felt convicted by the words he had read in chapter 58 of the book of Isaiah. In his blog he referenced 5 categories of basic needs which I found very helpful and will use to outline a suggested living wage below. You can read more of their story here. 

Basic need #1: Food  |  “feed the hungry” vs 7

A minimum wage forces someone to eat to survive. A living wage offers someone the opportunity to eat to thrive.  

In 2014, a family of four required approximately R2000 per month to eat a nutritious diet. A conservative estimate for 2019, including inflation, is around R2800, or roughly R700 per person per month. 

Basic need #2: Shelter  |  “provide the poor wanderer with shelter” vs 7

minimum wage forces someone to live in a shack. A living wage offers someone the opportunity to live in dignified shelter. 

This is a tricky one. My only advice would be this. Find out if your employee is currently living in a shack. Then ask if that is where they want to live. Perhaps the answer is yes. Perhaps they live in a RDP house and don’t pay anything for it. But if not, be encouraged to engage in a conversation with them. The research I did showed me that a modest 2 bedroom flat in the Cape Flats area costs around R4000/month to rent. Ask God to guide you in this conversation.  

Basic need #3: Clothing  |  “clothe the naked” vs 7

A minimum wage most likely doesn’t take clothing into account as a basic need. A living wage offers someone the opportunity to buy at least one set of adequate clothing for the various activities they participate in.  

No monthly estimate was made in 2014 for this category. Some ideas I would offer for your consideration as you work this out: Do school-going children in the family have the required school uniforms, clothing for sports or other activities that are required by the school? Do children in the family have clothes to play in and clothes to sleep in, suitable for both winter and summer? Do the adults in the family have adequate clothing for summer, winter, sleeping etc? 

I would humbly suggest an estimate of R2000 per person per year. For a family of 4 this works out to around R650 per month or R150 per person per month. This would cover 2 new pairs of shoes, a winter jacket, a summer outfit, a winter outfit and a pair of pajamas along with some basic underwear & socks. This would also cover one school uniform for kids and one work outfit for an adult.

Other basic needs  |  “satisfy the needs of the oppressed” vs10

The basic needs of any human being should include water, electricity, education for children, transport costs, communication/cellphone costs, household items, toiletries. 

A minimum wage assumes the state will make good on its promise to deliver free education, free water and electricity and free health care. A living wage gives people an opportunity to be able to pay for some of those basic needs which are not provided.  

This is a category where I suggest you do need to take some time to sit down and talk with your employee. Here are some questions you could ask: 

  • Which school do your children go to? Is there a monthly fee attached? 
  • How much do you usually spend on electricity and water each month? Compare that to your own expenses in this area as the State does not discriminate these costs. 
  • How do you get to work and back each day? How long does it usually take you and how much does it cost? Is there an easier/quicker/safer route or means of transport that costs more that I can help with? 
  • How much does your cellphone cost each month? An entry level Smart Phone costs around R500 once off.  
  • When tallying up basic toiletries like toilet paper, toothpaste, soap etc don’t forget about the monthly feminine hygiene needs of your employee or their dependents. 

A word of caution before you have this conversation. Remember that your employee is made in the image of God and as such deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. We all know that talking about our personal finances is hard. It can feel embarrassing and intrusive. Don’t pry. Don’t assume you are entitled to this private information just because you want to change. Be sensitive to the situation. Perhaps you could start by explaining your own journey and how you got to this point. Be vulnerable first. Don’t let your genuinely good intentions be overshadowed by your clumsiness or ignorance. The last thing you want is for your employee to feel like your “good deed” project. Talk to your employee like you would a friend, or better yet, like the daughter or son of the most high God that they are.  

Medical care is a debatable topic as many believe this can be obtained for free at a local clinic. Whilst this is true, the long wait at government clinics often means that a days wages is forfeited in seeking medical care and the cost to travel to and from a (not so) local clinic are often prohibitive. Consider co-funding or paying in full for basic health care for your employee. There are now Health Insurance Plans specifically designed for Domestic employees that cost around R270 per month. 

Transport is also a tricky one. It costs my domestic employee R35 per day to travel to and from my house in the Southern Suburbs. She lives in Philippi. That’s R735 per month. Assuming she has 2 children that also need to travel to and from school every day, which is probably closer to where they live, I’d add on R800 for transport for both kids. That’s about R1500 on transport per month.      

Taking all this into account, I would suggest as estimate of R2700 per month for a family of 3 based on the following monthly estimates: 

  • Water and electricity: R500 
  • Education: Free 
  • Transport: R1500 
  • Cellphone: R100 
  • Household/Kitchen items: R100  
  • Toiletries: R200 
  • Medical Aid: R270 

5) Things that will break the cycle of poverty  |  “untie the cords of the yoke”

A minimum wage forces someone to live month to month or even week to week with no security or back-up. A living wage should provide enough that, if managed wisely, the employee will be able to save some money to break out of generational poverty.  

For the sake of this exercise, we will cap emergency and savings at 10% of the monthly total. 

Taking all this into account, below is my proposal for a living-wage for a family of 3 (1 adult and 2 kids): 

Costs Family of 3  Per person 
Food  R2100  R700 
Accommodation  Unknown  Unknown 
Clothing  R450  R150 
Water and Electricity  R500  R150 
Education  Free  Free 
Transport  R1500  R500 
Cellphone  R100  R100 
Household/kitchen items  R100  R50 
Toiletries  R200  R100 
Medical Aid  R270  R270 
Savings/Emergencies  R500  R200 
TOTAL  R5720  R2220 

 

At this point I feel it is important to state the obvious. Every person and every family is different.  

A living wage is not the lowest one can get away with based on a particular person’s basic needs. For example, what a 22-year old might need to cover their basic needs may not be as much as what a mother of 3 needs. That shouldn’t justify paying the 22-year old less. It also shouldn’t justify not employing the mother of 3 simply because she has children and therefore her basic needs are higher. That is an illegal form of discrimination. Also, increasing someone’s hours at a lower rate and justifying it by thinking you’ve helped them because you’re giving them more money than before is also not ok. All I can say is be cautious that you don’t end up using these guidelines in the opposite way it was intended. Value the person more than the process.  

In conclusion I, personally, have landed on the amount of R7500 per month as a “living wage”. This equates to approximately R45 per hour for a full-time employee or R50 per hour adhoc.  When I made the decision to employ someone in my home, I worked out what I could afford based on R50 per hour and went from there.  

I pray you have found this information helpful and that it is a starting point for you to freshly, and prayerfully, consider what you pay the people you employ in or around your home. I would suggest that your next steps might be to either reduce the amount of hours you employ someone (in order to increase their hourly rate) or to cut back other areas of your budget in order to pay them more for the time they are currently employed. 

 

FURTHER READING 

  • If you want to watch a personal testimony from a congregational leader in our church, watch this 
  • If you want to deeper into what the bible says about this topic, follow this devotional 
  • If you feel like you have a very good reason why you can’t pay what has been suggested above, read these other good reasons and some responses here. 

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